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[spahy] /spaɪ/
noun, plural spies.
a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, especially with reference to military or naval affairs.
a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.
a person who seeks to obtain confidential information about the activities, plans, methods, etc., of an organization or person, especially one who is employed for this purpose by a competitor:
an industrial spy.
the act of spying.
verb (used without object), spied, spying.
to observe secretively or furtively with hostile intent (often followed by on or upon).
to act as a spy; engage in espionage.
to be on the lookout; keep watch.
to search for or examine something closely or carefully.
verb (used with object), spied, spying.
to catch sight of suddenly; espy; descry:
to spy a rare bird overhead.
to discover or find out by observation or scrutiny (often followed by out).
to observe (a person, place, enemy, etc.) secretively or furtively with hostile intent.
to inspect or examine or to search or look for closely or carefully.
Origin of spy
1200-50; (v.) Middle English spien, aphetic variant of espien to espy; (noun) Middle English, aphetic variant of espy a spy < Old French espie
Related forms
spyship, noun
outspy, verb (used with object), outspied, outspying.
superspy, noun, plural superspies.
unspied, adjective
unspying, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for spying
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Were it discovered that he had entered the den of vice merely for the purpose of spying, it might go hard with him.

    The Missing Tin Box Arthur M. Winfield
  • I suppose there's no danger of folks coming down the stairs and spying on us?'

  • Are you spying upon us poor citizens, to whom is denied aught but the ashes of the bread of life?

    For the Faith Evelyn Everett-Green
  • The soldiers had evidently dismounted and were spying our movements.

    An Explorer's Adventures in Tibet A. Henry Savage Landor
  • She caught up his hand suddenly, spying upon it a strand of blood.

    The Broken Gate Emerson Hough
British Dictionary definitions for spying


noun (pl) spies
a person employed by a state or institution to obtain secret information from rival countries, organizations, companies, etc
a person who keeps secret watch on others
(obsolete) a close view
verb spies, spying, spied
(intransitive) usually foll by on. to keep a secret or furtive watch (on)
(intransitive) to engage in espionage
(transitive) to catch sight of; descry
Word Origin
C13 spien, from Old French espier, of Germanic origin; related to Old High German spehōn, Middle Dutch spien
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for spying



mid-13c., from Old French espier "to spy," probably from Frankish *spehon, from Proto-Germanic *spekh- (cf. Old High German *spehon "to look out for, scout, spy," German spähen "to spy," Middle Dutch spien), the Germanic survivals of the productive PIE root *spek- "to look" (see scope (n.1)).


mid-13c., "one who spies on another," From Old French espie, probably from a Germanic source (see spy (v.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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